Charlie’s conversion to Islam and realization of impending execution
Appeals process and Supreme Court involvement
Derrek’s interactions with his father and adult life
Derrek’s support system while in college
Derrek’s thoughts on the execution
Opinions on the use of the death penalty as punishment
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LOUIS KELLER: We’re rolling.
DERREK BROOKS: Oh, I see the red light. Hi! (waves, laughs)
REBECCA LORINS: So here we are in Fort Worth, in ...what neighborhood are we in? Echo Heights, with Derrek Brooks. I'm Rebecca Lorins, I'm the interviewer for TAVP, and we're here with Louis Keller, who's doing the videography today, and Joyce Easely is also in the room at this moment. And thank you so much for sitting with us.
BROOKS: Not a problem, not a problem at all.
LORINS: I explained to you the procedures, and the risks and benefits, and you signed a consent form before we turned the camera on.
BROOKS: Yes, ma'am. I did.
LORINS: So, Derrek is here today to talk to us about his experiences, his life experiences, and how his father, Charlie Brooks, Jr., and how his life impacted his own. So, like I said, maybe we'll just start with where you were born, and telling us a little about where you were born and that neighborhood.
BROOKS: I was born in Fort Worth, Texas. Actually I was born on the south side, with my mother's family. My father's family was in the Riverside area. So, we would go – we would live with my mother and on weekends we would go visit my father. I was a little boy. I remember going to Christmas breakfasts at the family's house, and it'd be the entire family, maybe about twenty people. We'd get the tallest guy in the room to come out front to call out the names of the presents. I remember my dad bein' there – sometimes – sometimes he wasn't. I remember my grandmother catching us, one time, because we were little kids staying at her house, and we had done somethin' bad, maybe broke a glass or something, and she goes, “You're not going to get anything for Christmas.” And we played like we were cryin' but we actually snuck to the attic where she had the presents and we were up there lookin' at 'em. “Oh yeah, look what we got, look what we got!” And she came up and caught us and we got a whooping and got sent to bed. (laughs) I remember that.
But other than that, most of my childhood I spent with my mother's family because at that time I believe, around five or six, I think my mom and my dad had separated. I remember just going over to her house pretty much a lot...and then around 15 years old, in 1977, is when my father went to death row. He got sentenced to death for a murder of a guy who was a used car salesman. And so, the way I understand the story, my father was on drugs, the other guy, Woody Loudres, was also on drugs. They had went to the car lot, and said they wanted to test drive a car. Well, it was the car lot's procedure to send a, you know, an employee with them. And they sent David, I believe his name was David Gregory. And, uh, we're not really sure what happened, but they stopped and they picked up a prostitute, and they were back at the motel, doin' whatever, and from what I understand, they took him out the car, tied him up, and gagged him, and then, some of the witnesses said they heard a shot: “pow!”
But from what I was told, my father was not inside the room, he was standing outside. And we have witnesses at the time of his trial that verified that. However, the prosecutor, or I guess the defense attorney, never interviewed anybody - any of the witnesses - to prove, you know, that he was not in there, to prove the fatal shot. So, they get arrested, and my dad and Woody both get charged with capital murder, because you have a kidnapping, you have a murder: that's capital murder.They have two separate trials, both are found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Some years went by, and they were both trying to appeal to get a new trial.It turns out that Woody actually got a new trial, so his sentence of death was commuted to forty years.
My dad tried, and tried, and tried, to get a new trial, and he was always denied. And on the actual execution date, December 7, 1982, prior to that, he had I believe four or five stays of execution. And that's when they give you an execution date and you get real close to the execution time and the mayor or the governor or the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals comes in and says, “We'll give him a stay.” So that happened in his life about four or five times and then on the final execution date, our family was thinking “No, you know, they're not gonna execute him, because we've been through this, time and again.” But they actually went forward with the execution and, and they did it.It went all the way to the Supreme Court and the vote was six to three in favor of letting the execution proceed. But Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was a dissenter, he was one of the three who voted NOT to have an execution and he basically said, “How can you execute the guy when his appeals process hasn't been exhausted? And, you know, there's a flaw in the system.”
But we know, we know in our hearts, my family knows, we know, that he didn't do it. You know what I mean. I'm not saying he was an angel. Because back then, in the sixties and seventies, drugs were rampant in our community, and my thing is, we don't have any drug labs in the community. And I think at the time then, the drug was heroin. But we don't have heroin labs in there. So we were like, “Where's the heroin coming from?So we feel like, we can't say who, but you know, upper, upper powers that be, would flood the Black and Mexican neighborhoods, you know, to keep the people down, to keep them from progress, from moving forward. We actually feel like that. Because prior to these drugs coming in to our neighborhood, the neighborhood was flourishing. People had jobs, cars, homes, you know, things were great. And then all of a sudden, we got heroin on every corner, almost in every house. And so these same guys that were going, who had the jobs or were going to college for lawyers or doctors, they threw those careers away. And they only focused on heroin.
And you know, my dad was a victim of it also. And that's why I say, you know, and he was a really good guy, the whole community loved him, but you know, he had demons that he had to wrestle with. Speaking of him being a good guy, I remember my aunts and my mom telling me stories like, when he was a little boy, thirteen or fourteen, he had a brown and white horse, and my aunt told me, the horse's name was Tony. Well, he would take the horse out and the community kids knew him, knew his family and he would actually let them ride it, take turns riding the horse. So he, that was really, really popular, people really liked that.His father, Charlie Brooks Sr., he worked at Swift Packing Company, which was, back then that would've been a job similar to General Motors or Lockheed. And he owned his own home, plus he owned two duplexes, and some acres of land, and he also owned a club and a restaurant. So they really had, they had their amount of money, and they lived well. But the thing is, he died when my father was thirteen. So, with my dad used to getting everything he wanted, period, and plus, he had older brothers and sisters because, when he was born, my grandmother already had kids. So his youngest sibling next to him would have been sixteen years old.
So when he came up twelve or thirteen, everybody was gone from the house. So he was the only child – his dad had money – so he got every thing he wanted. I was told of a story, where he would drive the new station wagon – brown and white or white station wagon, that my grandmother had – and that he would give the kids rides to school, give the neighborhood rides to the stores, and that his dad, you know, because he had a little money, if some of the people in the neighborhood needed help, with paying bills or loans or whatever, he would always give it to them. You know, and he was really well liked by everybody.
And then my aunt also told me a story that on the weekends, that some of the community members would gather at, it wasn't a community center, but it was a school, and they would play cards and dominoes. And that my grandfather, Charlie Sr., was an excellent domino player, so the community members would come in and practice so they could beat him:“Oh yeah, we gotta go, we gotta see if we can beat Papa Charlie today, 'cause Papa Charlie's good!” So he was real; he was well liked by everybody.
So I could see how when he got of age, he rebelled. Because his dad dies, and that leaves a gaping hole in your soul and you're like “What? God? Why'd you take my dad?” And you know, I kind of felt that way too. But, we kind of saw it coming, we were hoping that it wouldn't, but we felt like the state of Texas was gonna make an example out of him because, one thing I was told, was that when he was incarcerated, he took law courses, and he graduated, and he was a paralegal, so they called him a jailhouse lawyer. So he would help guys get their sentences overturned, or get new court dates or even get their time reduced. And I personally felt like maybe the state of Texas didn't really want him helping all these people.So they really didn't have an incentive to want to keep him alive and they was like “Hey, this guy's causin' problems for us, cause he's helping all these inmates get out, get out early and get new trials, so let's just go ahead and go with the execution.” So, they went ahead and did that.
We were really devastated even though we knew that you're not going to get stays forever; if it goes through the Supreme Court and they say no, it's just a matter of time. We knew that. But we were still devastated.Cause he was a good guy, really well liked just about by everybody. I remember my aunt telling me, one particular family, the lady had kids, but, on Thanksgivings, she would always save a drumstick for my dad when he would come by (I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I thought I had control of these emotions). But for the most part what I want everybody to know is that we feel like that he's innocent, and what I want to do now, some of the family members are like, “Don't worry about it Derrek, just leave it alone.” But, I want to petition the D.A's office for a DNA test – I mean, it can't hurt, he's already dead, but if that DNA test comes back and says that he's innocent then I can exonerate his name posthumously and that's one of the goals I'm looking forward to.
LORINS: I remember you discussed this with me. I’m wondering, when was the first time you were thinking about the DNA test?
BROOKS: You know, just recently, actually, because prior to you guys contacting us, I lived in Virginia. 'Cause I've only been here, been back in Texas since November. I really feel like it's Divine intervention, or maybe God...because I'm in Virginia and then all of a sudden, my girlfriend gets transferred back and I have to come back with her, and then a month after that you guys call and say “Hey, we want to talk about your dad.” So I feel like it's Divine Intervention and so, I'm all for it.
After I talked to another guy, Mr. Sessions, Timothy Sessions, about how his brother had passed away and had got exonerated, that led me to the idea that okay, now they have DNA, and even though his case is back in 1982, I feel like because it's historic – being the first guy to die of lethal injection – I feel like they're gonna have evidence, they gotta preserve it because it's history. And so that we should be able to get a DNA test on it and find out something okay, and if it says, “Yeah he was there,” well we knew he was there, they were in the room together, all the people were in the room together, but nobody ever saw who shot, who fired the shot. For two people to be involved in the same crime, and one person gets out and the other gets executed, that's injustice - that's just injustice.We had pretty much settled it and had let it go, and we were just gonna leave it the way it was, and then TAVP calls, so now it's back open, the ball's rolling, and I want to see if I can get that done. Do you want me to keep talking or do you want to ask me questions?
LORINS: Yeah, you're doing a great job. You've actually brought up a lot of history, so maybe we'll pedal back just a little bit.
BROOKS: Yeah, 'cause it is coming fast, it's just flowing, like my dad's talking through me or something. You never know.
LORINS: Charlie Brooks, Sr., you were talking about him owning property and that was in the Fort Worth area as well, correct?
BROOKS: Yes, that was in the Riverside area.
LORINS: In the Riverside area. Does that mean the Brooks family has deep roots in the area? Or was your grandfather the first one to live in that area?
BROOKS: Well, maybe in that area. From what I understand, his people are from Louisiana, but I don't know how long they've been here. All I know is that when he married my grandmother, he was like her third husband, and he got the job, at the Swift Packing, so he bought her a house, and bought her some more property, because I remember being a little kid, going over there, going through the drawers... My grandmother, we used to call her Big Momma, and we called him Papa Charlie.
My grandmother, she owned the restaurant, so she was the owner of the restaurant. And she also – in the white station wagon that I told you my dad drove around – she would take men from their homes to the fields, and to their jobs, and then in the evenings pick them up and bring them back. So that was another job she had. And then, she also did ceramics, 'cause I remember going in the drawers and seein' those little statues and statuines, and the kiln where you cook 'em in, I remember seeing that because I remember getting a whooping for playing with it when I shouldn't have. Yeah, I remember so much about her. But by the time we got around fifteen or so we think, she started developing Alzheimer's, because she didn't know us any more. She'd be like, “Who are these men? Get these men out of my house.” And then she eventually died. But, as far as my dad, I'd say he was a little spoiled, because he was always used to getting everything he wanted. His parents had money. And bein' a black male in the forties, you know, when everybody else is struggling and you've got money, and you've got new cars, he was just really popular… Maybe to his detriment, because maybe if he DIDN'T get everything that he wanted, it wouldn't have turned out the way it was.
But, if I had to say some stories, I remember (I don't want to say this but I'm gonna say it, it's kinda…it's not real bad) but I remember being about 8 years old, and he would come by and pick me and my brother up, and he had this old fashioned truck – it was black, like a model T truck – and we used to get rides in the neighborhood and everyone in the neighborhood be looking at us, saying “Oh, nice truck, nice truck.” But I remember he would, we would get out, and he'd say, “I'm gonna make a man out of y’all.” He'd hit us in the chest, (smacking sound). “I'm gonna make a man out of you boys; I'm gonna make a man out of y'all!” And we'd be like, “Dad!” And I'm talking like we was friendly, but I personally was a little upset with him, because I was an A student all the way through school, all the way through High School – not college: in college I made C's – but all the way through high school being an A student, and I felt like, “Hey, I'm in all these programs, I'm getting' all these awards, and you're never there; why aren't you there? I need you to be there for me!” But now that I'm an adult, I understand that he had a demon that he was chasing—you know, that heroin – and no matter how much you love your family, that drug is powerful, so it'll make you change your priorities from your kids to “Hey, I need this next fix.”
So, when I was fifteen, sixteen and seventeen I was angry with him, but now, when I got older I realized what he was going through. So it kinda helped me understand why he wasn't there, or why – because there were times when we missed birthdays, dad wasn't there for birthdays – dad wasn't there for Christmas; sometimes he was, sometimes he wasn't. So, when I look back on my life I can see why he wasn't there. Because, he would be there and then, poof! He'd be gone. And then, six months, a year later, two years - he's back. Then, poof! He's gone again. So it was like that a lot.
And then, the thing about back then, the inmates could not call the residences – like they do now – but a year before he got executed the city of Fort Worth let him use the phone to call us. So I remember talking to him on the phone for hours. And he would always write us letters, on birthdays, “I hope this letter finds you well. This is your father and I want you to know that I love you. I'm sorry that I'm in here. I'm trying to get out.” Supportive things, like “What are you doing? How are your grades?” And I'd like to say also, I remember going to Tarrant County Jail and I remember bein' upset because he was in prison. So I felt like, okay, if you got my dad in prison, this state is gonna give me the best education that it has or one of them. So that's why I chose Texas A&M and then I remember telling my dad in prison, “Dad! I got accepted to A&M!” And he said, “That's great! That's great! That's great! I'm so proud of you!” And then later on, my brother came.
I remember being at A&M, freshman year – my dad's locked up – we’re going through this stay stuff and I'm trying to focus on my studies and they actually set another date, so I took a semester off and came back to Fort Worth and I enrolled in Tarrant County College – so I could continue to get my grants and my money and stuff – and I remember them saying, well, the execution date, that it's coming, and it's probably going to happen. I remember my grandfather, my mother's dad, saying, “They're not going to execute Charlie. We done had so many stays, they ain't gonna execute him.” And I remember us driving from Fort Worth to Huntsville in my little piece of car – the door would fall off when we opened it, I kid you not – we in this car and maybe we were a little rough with the car – it was a Ford Mustang – and I remember we were riding in the car and we pull over to go to the store or something and either me or my mom be on the passenger side and we forget that the door was broken and we'd open the door and “BOOP!” it'd fall on the ground and everybody lookin' at us like, “Oh my god, they door just fell off!” But we put the door back on and we kept going.
So we got there to the Walls Unit and when we went in I guess the jailer said that, “Okay, this is as far as you're going.” Your father has requested that y'all do not see his execution. Specifically, “I do not want my sons,” I’m sorry, “I do not want my sons to see my execution.” So we didn't see it, but we got there like ten minutes early – the execution was scheduled for like let's say midnight – we got there at ten minutes to midnight, so we're just sittin' in the room talkin', then we see some reporters come in, and we some more people, witnesses come in, they go in the room, and we're lookin' at our watches…it's five minutes till, three minutes till, it's one minute till…now it's like five minutes after and we're thinking they must've did it. It's like dead silence.
Nobody's sayin' anything and then all these witnesses that came in, they came out and they had their heads down, lookin' all sad, and then we knew. It was done, it was over with, we didn't get to see him. I remember my brother picking up a chair, drawing it, and we were trying to remain, you know, be calm; but we're like angry, man, we're angry because hey, you just killed my dad. I remember comin' down the stairs and it's like a throng of media – it’s just media everywhere – and they've got signs, “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him now! Put the needle in his arm!” And I'm mad, we're mad; we're twenty-one, so we're a little embarrassed, so we thought about going over there and starting a fight with all these protesters, but with police everywhere, it wouldn't have helped, it wouldn't have brought anything back, it would have made everything worse. So we just left and went back to the hotel room and instead of sadness, at first it felt more like shock. We were just like, “Did they really do that? Is Dad really dead? Is it done, is it gone?” And it was.
And I remember, my aunt told me this story of how they flew the body back from Huntsville to Fort Worth. And the thing is – by this being the first execution by lethal injection – this is historic. So we got media from all over the world. They camped out at our house, they camped out at our friends' houses, they're following our car, they're following the hearse, and my aunt told me that they flew the body with a helicopter back to Fort Worth and when it landed, there was media everywhere. And they followed it, and they was like, “Hey! What do you think about this?! What do you think about your dad? What did your dad do? Did you think your dad was a murderer? Did he really kill him? What do you think?” And we're grieving and mad and hate the world, and we got all these people, so we ended up going over to some friends' houses that nobody knew about to escape all the media hype.
But basically by the fact that one person is free and walking right now, because he had a – I’m sorry guys, you might have to edit that part. By the fact that one guy… Two guys commit the crime, two guys get arrested for it, are tried and held guilty of murder, you get a retrial and it's “Okay, well, we're gonna commute your sentence to forty years; since you've been here long enough, you get to go home.” The other guy, “We're not giving you another trial. We don't care, we gave your buddy one but we're not giving you one.” And he got executed. We really felt like that was the most unfair thing that the state of Texas could have ever done. Just… And even this prosecutor, Jack Strickland, the one who prosecuted and got both of them the death penalty, came back and said, “Hey, wait a minute, we will never know who did this. For all we know, we executed the wrong person.” And my family believes they did. So we're looking for some exoneration, posthumously, but you know…
LORINS: So, you had mentioned that at fifteen is when 1977  was the crime, and you mentioned being angry around fifteen to seventeen, so I'm wondering, do you remember did you have people to turn to? How did you sort of handle that anger? What are the different ways you might have handled that anger?
BROOKS: Well, basically, I threw myself into like my studies, and then I had my mom's parents and my mom and I would tell my mom “How come he ain't never here? Why is my father never here?” Not knowing that he's struggling with...you know…and heroin is not an easy drug. You just don't put it down and walk away – that’s a ride that takes you fifteen, seventeen years. And, but, I didn't understand at the time, because I didn't know. All I knew was when you're here, we're happy, you're proud of us, we're doing good, and then you're gone. And I'm like, “Well, if you're so proud of us, why do you keep leavin? Why don't you just stay here?” But later on in life, like I said, I found out why, and I understand because I had my own problems – so I went through some stuff too – but I understand now, as a man, what he was going through with that. But yeah, I would say that my grandparents on my mom's side and my mom, they kinda helped, and I just threw myself into my studies. I mean, like, instead of going out fightin' or, like, cuttin' or stealin' or something, I just said, “I'm gonna just do good in school, I'm gonna try to make straight A's. Maybe when he sees I'm making these straight A's, it will motivate him to not want to go back to prison.” But, unfortunately, it didn't happen.
But then I remember bein' in A&M, and I remember takin' a semester off, going to TCC; that was the semester when the execution happened. I remember being in a drafting class and I had missed the day before – I had missed two days – because I left and went down to the execution. I remember coming back and my teacher goes, “Uh, Mr. Brooks, where you been?” And I said, “Well, my dad was executed by the state of Texas.” And she just looked at me, and – cause it was on the news – but I don't know if they knew that it was me. But then when they heard it they was like “Oh my god, I'm so sorry. You know, that was your dad, we didn't know that was your dad, I'm so sorry.” How do you comfort a person? You just say “I'm sorry” and we just…class as usual, books as usual, and life just went on. Just went on.
LORINS: Well, I both wanted to know more about your relationship with your brother during this time, but also, when you were going through middle school, junior high, high school, your father was in prison before the death row. So I'm wondering when did you first know, that he was in prison, I guess?
BROOKS: That's a good question. Okay, now, I remember him not being there a lot, so I just assume that the time he was not there he was in jail, but I specifically remember me and Keith and my grandmother, Big Momma, we were there and it was his birthday. And I remember that morning him asking her, “Momma, I need some money.” And she said, “I don't have none,” and she told us, “I'm gonna give your dad some money, but it's gonna be in the evening, when he comes back; we're gonna surprise him with a birthday cake and give him the money.” And I remember, he never came back. I think I was told that he committed some crime – robbery or something – and got caught, and I remember it being 8, 9, 10 o'clock at night and we're thinking he's gonna show up any minute. Cake's right there, we're there, we're excited, and he never came home. And he just never came home.
I found out the next day, that because his mom didn't give him the money – ASAP when he wanted it – he went out and took something and ended up going to prison. So I think out of, from the time I was born until I was 21 when he was executed, he wasn't in our life like every day or every week, but whenever he got out of jail, he always picked us up. I remember goin' to K-Mart, buying clothes, shoes, riding with him; I remember going to the park, I remember eating, I remember eating ice cream with him. Him teaching us stuff like, “Okay, just make sure, you don't let people get under your skin. Don't let people” we used to call it, (my brother could tell you this because I got this word from him) “steal your cool.” What that would mean, is you don't let them get you so angry to where you lose control of yourself. You maintain your level of calmness, despite what people are saying. And um, I remember that....uh, okay.
LORINS: Yeah, you were mentioning that you remember going shopping with him – you had stories of going shopping – so what were some of the things that you liked doing with him? I guess you…
BROOKS: Well, like I said, I remember bits and pieces 'cause he wasn't there for an extended period of time to where we could… Like I could remember him here, and then I remember him gone. I remember him coming back and, for like two weeks, we got a memory and then him gone. And then I'm always asking my parents, my mom, or his mom, or my aunt on his side, “How come he's always gone?” I remember being seven or eight asking that, and then they were like, “Well, you know, your dad's going through some things and that's why he's in prison.” I remember him – I remember going to a hospital, where he was shot. I remember my aunt taking us there, I remember him layin' in that bed in critical – with the wires and tubes and everything – and I'm freaking out; I'm scared to death. 'Cause I'm like ten, and apparently he's an outgoing guy and at the same time, a no-nonsense guy – “I’m not taking no crap offa nobody” – that’s what I understand. So my aunt told me that he had got into a little scuffle with a guy, “Next time I see you, you better not come 'round, I'm gonna do this to you...” and apparently, he saw the guy another time and the guy drew on him and shot him. And he didn't die, but he was like in critical condition for a long time. And you know, I remember that, and then he's gone again. I mean, he was in the hospital for a LONG time. And then when he got out, he'd be gone again, then he'd be back again, and then he'd be gone again.
So (sigh) other than every time he came home, we went over to my Aunt Mary's house. Well, she's actually Cousin Mary, but she was grown when we were little kids, so we felt like she was – she treated us like an aunt. So I remember going over to her house – a hundred times – every time he came home from wherever he was, he picked up me and Keith and took us over to Mary's house. And I remember we set there for two hours, we're ready to go home, we're tired, mad… But he's in there talking to her and I remember every time we left – okay, she fed us, and she gave us a bag of food to take with us, and then she'd give us underwear or shoes or pants. Every single time she'd be like, “Wait a minute, I got something for you!” She'd go over there and get a tape recorder or something; “Here, take this.” And you know, she was always givin' us stuff. Even to this day, if I go over there and sit two hours – ‘cause it's a two hour minimum, yeah, but (laughs) – but I remember every single time we left, she would always give us something. “Your daddy love you,” we'd go over there sometimes when he was locked up, “You know your daddy love you, he's just going through some things.”
And in his letters, there was no doubt that he loved us. Because he would write, “I love you, I love you, don't ever get into this situation that I'm in…don’t ever, don’t ever.” And my brother Keith's got a story that he actually got us in trouble and I hope that he'll tell you about it. ‘Cause he got to be in there with my father, and so my father taught him a whole ‘lotta things that helped him when he got out. But I remember him saying, “Don't ever get into trouble, always maintain your composure; you don't want these people—and when he'd say 'these people', you know, police—you don't want these people to lock you up, put you in jail, where I am.” I remember talking to him through the glass, him saying that, we're touching hands through the glass. “I want you all to be successful, son. I'm glad you went to college, your brother's going to college. You all take care of each other. Don't go through this. Don't go through this.” I remember that. I remember him saying it all the time. In the letters, “How are you doing? I love you. I love your brother. I don't want you ever to go through this situation.” So I mean, he just drummed it in our heads ‘til we didn't.
I think Keith made a mistake when he was fifteen, but ever since then we haven't had no problem with the police because you – when you're young – you’re hearing these things, but you don't know that they're registering. But when you get older, you think back, “My dad told me that. That's something my dad told me.” And it stuck. So, even though he wasn't there, he helped. He helped a lot. And maybe when I was younger I couldn't see it, 'cause I was fifteen, I was mad – I was seventeen, I was mad. “He ain't never here, I’m making all these A's – ‘cause I'm making straight A's in school – I’m getting awards in reading, awards in English, awards in math, awards in science…” And my mom would come to the programs, but dad was never there. So I figured, well, maybe if I go to A&M…but before he got a chance to really see the A&M thing kick off – me and Keith being there – he was executed. So, I think that if he wouldn't have been executed, he would've been proud of us because he would know that we went to – ‘causeyou know A&M is a great school as far as Texas is concerned, that's why I picked it – ‘cause I'm like, “Okay, if y'all gonna execute my dad, and put him on death row, you gotta give me the best education you got.”
Now, I'm not saying this – if I had to do it over, I probably woulda went to Texas – WHOO! Aggies! (laughs) I’m sorry, it just came outta nowhere – but, for the most part, even though he wasn't in our lives every day, he always wrote letters and when they let him call he would call every day, to the point where I’m like, “Gee, Dad calling again!” I remember talking to him on the phone one time and I remember I used to look up at the sky at the stars and just wonder how far out – or like you see a plane way up there going, where is that plane going? And who's in it? And he told me that he thought those exact same things. Whew! I'm sorry...okay. But he did have a positive influence on us and he’s one of the main reasons despite school being hard, because college is extremely hard – freshman year fine, you coasting, but right about that junior, senior year, it's knuckles to the grinder – it’s really hard you know, and I know he would be proud. I'm sorry for tearing up, ladies and gentlemen.
LORINS: Don't be sorry. What did you study?
BROOKS: Computer science. So I got out of school and I became a computer programmer, but didn't…I made some mistakes, so, um…but I did do computer programming for, like, seven years and really had fun. And the thing about A&M is that they have the family that are close-knit so if people know you're from A&M they're, “Hey! Come on over here! Howdy! Come on over here!” They want to help you out. So if I did an interview at a job, and then my former, my future boss knew I was from A&M, I'd probably get preferential treatment which probably wasn't good, but it happened. But I think he would be proud of us right know; I'm doin' okay right now, I'm trying to get back on my feet since the move from Virginia. But Keith is doing great, he has this company – Brooks Paving, he's been in business 20 years, we've paved streets from the front of Fort Worth to the back, and parking lots and driveways and the number is 817-909-1715! If you need your driveway paved or your parking lot, or you need stripes. We're the ones for that. I’m sorry, that’s a shameless plug, I’m sorry.
LORINS: Brooks family now has…is present in Fort Worth. I think this is common knowledge but we talked about it too, about your father's conversion?
BROOKS: Um, okay Keith would know more about that than me. From what I understand, because I remember him telling me, right maybe a year or two before he was executed, that I should start listening to the Nation of Islam. I should start listening to [inaudible] Farakan. And I did. And I like a lot of things he said. I don't agree with 100 percent, but the things about Black Unity and the Black Self-Help – pull yourself up, support your community, that kind of thing – I really, really like that. And he talked about it I think after he got converted; he talked about it all the time. ‘Cause he changed his name – I had it written down…What is it, mom? Uh, Sharif Kareem Abdul Ahim or something like that. And he – I remember him telling us what each name stood for, but I don't remember now what it was.
But I remember him, once he got converted, he was like really serious, he was like, “When I get out of here, we're doing things different.” Because he really felt like he was gonna get out. Because he knew that – by him being a paralegal – he knew that, hey, it's only fair if you give one person a new trial, what's the big deal about giving the other – and you've got to, because we're both together, and we don't know who did it, so you get a new trial, he should get a new trial. He used to say, “When I get out of here, we're doing things different, I'm gonna be more family, I'm taking my kids – my family – we’re gonna get in the Nation of Islam, we're gonna grow and be successful.” And he did have plans, because he was assuming he was gonna be out.
But from what I was told, when the Supreme Court rejected the decision, he pretty much told hisself “Okay, I'm gonna have to take this. This is going down, and I'm gonna take it like a man.” And they said that – Goddamn – some of the witnesses said that when they put the needle in your arm – because they have, back then they had three drugs…I used to know 'em…Sodium Pentathol, uh, Bromium Procuride or something like that…and I forget the third one. But one of them, they're supposed to, what is it, relax your breathing and then one is supposed to stop your heart beat, and one is supposed to do something else, I can't remember. But I remember the witnesses said that after the first drug went in he clenched his fist, and they said that after the second drug went in, his chest went up (inhales sharply). And then after the third drug, they pronounced him dead. And I remember, I remember that clearly.
It was like…they was like…he said, “Okay I'm gonna do this, and I'm not gonna go kicking and screaming, I'm gon' handle this like a man. I'm gonna lay down and take this death sentence and make my… I remember him telling us, apologizing, saying, “I'm sorry that I put the spotlight on you all like this, because here I am getting executed so now the whole world is gonna see my sons and know that their father was executed by lethal injection.” I remember him saying that. But I remember him saying, “Be strong, always be strong, always take care of your mother. Take care of your family, be men, and be strong.” I remember that. But yeah, they said that after the second drug hit him and his chest went up, I guess he was fighting it because they said that one of them – they really said it's inhumane how it…because it burns, one of them goes through and it burns, it's in your blood and it burns your arteries and stuff, and they said that's why his chest went up, because it was a burning feeling. And then, he was gone. And then there was another big controversy, because they felt like doctors who take the Hippocratic Oath should not administer death, death drugs to people. So that was really big and controversial. But they're still doing it, so it didn't go anywhere.
LORINS: So when you were in college and all of these controversies were going on and your father, I mean, were you sharing that with people, students, other friends and peers?
BROOKS: Maybe a girlfriend, but for the most part, no. Because I was angry. I think I was angry for the rest of my time in college. Because, and I'm gonna be honest, A&M's a white school - A&M's 98% white. And I'm dark black, I'm not light-skinned black. So I'm at this school, and I'm thinking some of these kids are starting to recognize me and nobody, other than my class at TCC in Fort Worth, nobody was really friendly. And I just kept to myself or shared it with a girlfriend. But for the most part, I just had to pretend that it was just another day. I couldn't let the fact that they just killed my father stop me, because it has the potential to. Because I could’ve said, “F--- school, I'm gonna go do drugs, I'm gonna go shoot some people…I coulda went bad, but I felt like, okay, somebody's gotta carry on the family name and you know…
Keith was more upset than me. That's why I think he had his little trouble, but you just gotta keep goin', you can't stop. And then later on, I met my wife and hey, had kids and stuff, but it's always in my mind and up until you guys called, we really… December 7 comes. We kinda know what the day is, so we'll talk to each other, “This is 25 years Daddy been gone.” But we don't really make a big deal out of it ‘cause it's done settled in, but now that you guys called, we kind of get to relive it a little bit. And I think that's probably why most of the elders didn't want to... Because I remember my Aunt Tino, she don't want to relive that and the elders in their 70s and 80s, they didn't… They'll talk to me about it, or mom, but they don't really want to just relive it and dig it all up and bring all those feelings back. ‘Cause they're old, and so you don't want your grandmother, I mean your aunt, your great aunt or whatever, having like, heart palpitations or high blood pressure because, “Oh hey, he's bringing all this stuff back up again.” So, just the young people, we talk about it amongst ourselves, but it's just like another day. You have to keep going.
You can't just...and then by the fact that the state of Texas is executing people left and right, I think we're the highest executions in the United States. Texas leads everybody in executions. And we know they're executing innocent people because the warden has said it and the chaplain has said it. I think in the chaplain's book he's even said, out of twenty or thirty people he's seen executed, he knows for a fact there were three that were innocent. And one of 'em was my dad. But…and I'm thinkin', I don't think his attorney – you know, you know how money gets, grants you things that you would not otherwise have. If you got enough money to get a high, expensive lawyer, then you're privy to all kinda favors and motions that maybe a court-appointed attorney don't care about and is not gonna…he's just there to go through the motions.
So I don't think we had, like, an expensive lawyer, because my aunt was telling me that nobody interviewed none of the neighbors to find out his character, what kind of person he was, or you know even – I even think the warden said some good things about him too, because you know he was there the whole time with the warden and they were actually friendly. I think, if I'm not mistaken, I think someone told me that they were pretty much on a first-name basis sometimes. Now, when like the other workers and stuff were around, he'd have to show that level of respect, but like if they're playing chess – oh, that's a story I'll tell you – but if they're playing chess, it's just like me and you, “Hey, Rebecca! Hey, Derrek!”
Oh, and speaking of the chess thing I was told – and Keith can confirm this because he talked to him personally – but I was told that my father was an excellent chess player – one of the best in Huntsville, that he used to beat the warden all the time and the warden was one of the good ones, and that my daddy used to beat the warden, used to beat the chaplain, and they would have contests where they would bring the other chess players form other farms, other prisons, and he would beat them, too. So that was nice to hear, that he still had brains and he wasn't letting his situation – because you have some guys, when they get locked up they say, “To hell with it.” They learn all the bad things… How am I gonna rob better, how am I gonna steal better. They don't worry about trying to educate themselves but my dad did. He went and got the paralegal certificate and became a lawyer, helped people out, always helping people out.
And you know what's funny? I find myself doing that now. Because, like, if I see someone homeless or someone standing on the corner, I make a U-turn and I go around and I give them a couple of dollars. And it really warms my heart and makes me feel good. But I think that that's something that I got from my dad and my mom. ‘Cause my mom's people, my grandmother on my mom's side…the most beautiful person you'd ever want to meet. If anybody's walkin' down the street and hungry, “Bring 'em in here. I'll fix 'em something to eat.” If they needed somewhere to lay down, she'd let 'em lay down. So these are the type of raisings that we got so that's why we became the men that we are today. Because I'll help anybody that's – somebody knock on the door for a ride, do they need money, do you need me to help you move something, help you move furniture – I’ll help because my family taught me that. And if you're like this evil person, you're not trying to help people you're…self-absorbed? Yeah, but I like helping people and I think I got it from my mom and my dad.
LORINS: That's beautiful.
BROOKS: Yeah – I ain't crying no more. God dawg! Phew!
Derrek Brooks is the son of Charlie Brooks Jr., (also known as Sharif Ahmad Abdul-Rahim at the time of his death), who was the first person executed by lethal injection (on December 7, 1982) in the United States. In Tape 1, Brooks recounts stories he has heard about his father’s childhood and from his own childhood; describes interactions he had with his father; shares what he knows about his father’s case and trial; and describes the effects of drugs on his father's life. In Tape 2, Brooks discusses life with his grandparents, and experiences at church as a child; the transformation of his neighborhood after the introduction of drugs; his father’s experiences in prison; and reflects on how his life has been shaped by his father's. In Tape 3, Brooks describes the day of the execution; the media attention his family received following the execution and funeral; the attention Charlie Brooks Jr.’s case receives today; and his own thoughts about the use and future of the death penalty in Texas. This interview took place in February 2013, at his mother's home in the Echo Heights neighborhood in Fort Worth, TX.
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Derrek BrooksRole: Narrator
Texas After Violence ProjectRole: Collaborator
Rebecca LorinsRole: Interviewer
Louis KellerRole: Videographer
Joanna VaughnRole: Transcriber
Walter LongRole: Transcriber
Jessica RubioRole: Proofreader
Rebecca LorinsRole: Proofreader
Jessica RubioRole: Writer of accompanying material
North America--United States--Texas
North America--United States--Texas--Fort Worth
Type of Resource:
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